The Committee on Minorities and Anthropology was established by a resolution which dealt with increasing the number of minority professionals in anthropology. The Committee has found that there are few anthropologists of minority background in the field: 122 of some 4000 professional anthropologists. It has also found that the number now in graduate school will not significantly increase the total in future years, and may not, in fact, serve to replace those now practicing in the discipline.
The Committee took as its task, the determination of the reason why more minority persons do not choose anthropology as a field of endeavor, by soliciting opinions and attitudes about their experiences. We felt there is something about the social and cultural milieu of anthropology which prevents the successful completion of studies by students and that it was more important to get at the underlying aspects of the larger problem than to provide more immediate solutions to the short-range problem of increasing the number of minorities in the field.
The results of our study are based mostly on the 37 respondents to our questionnaire, from the information we could gather on the larger sample from professional directories and guides, and from the personal experiences of those who served on the Committee. Undoubtedly, our data base is small, but we feel the findings are significant and as representative of our population as the usual "samples" taken by anthropologists in their community studies. We leave it to our successor Committee and others to test our results and determine the validity of this report.
In discussing the problem of minorities in anthropology, it is important to separate those conditions and constraints which are characteristic of the United States in general from those conditions which are peculiar to anthropology. We are not implying that the two are unrelated. No one should be deceived into believing that anthropologists cannot be racist and practice discrimination and exploitation in the same manner as anyone else in the society. But at this point, we are forced to accept the fact that members of a minority group suffer discrimination in this society, and this discrimination in general has a bearing on career development, and focus on those conditions which have a specific relationship to career development in anthropology. What follows, is a general viewpoint developed in Committee discussions on ethnic visibility, enculturation into anthropology, and the academic specialization of minorities. No effort is made to summarize the report as a whole, since each section has covered the subject in a sufficiently brief manner.
The various discussions on ethnic visibility presented in the report resulted from the concern of the Committee for the representativeness of our sample. In this instance, we began with the question of how well our subsamples represented the various ethnic group points of view. This led to the question of a pecking order among ethnic groups and to the relative discrimination which each faced. It was clear from the response to the questionnaire, that the views reflected therein were related to this variable. The Spanish-speaking respondents, for example, did not reflect the views or problems of the Black and American Indian minorities born and raised in the United States. The respondents were mostly from a non-Chicano population. They may have experienced prejudice and discrimination as graduate students and professionals but not on a daily basis as was the case with the native American minorities. Only one of our respondents called himself a Chicano; the rest were Portuguese and of other Latin American and Spanish origin. Many are foreign students who came to graduate school in this country. One was born outside the United States and is now associated with Chicano studies at his university. A paraphrase of his response is that "I really am not a Chicano and don't know what it is to have been raised in the United States under these conditions. I have even thought of changing my last name to make it shorter and avoid the problems of Chicanos. I understand their problem as an anthropologist. I am learning about them but I have not had these life experiences."
This observation highlighted skin color and ability to speak "good" English as the main variables in the relative visibility of different ethnic groups and the relative problems which go with this visibility. The notion of re-enforcement and counter-re-enforcement of minority status was raised as a concept related to ethnic visibility. The more visible minorities are constantly being reminded of their minority status and expected to act in that capacity. This tends to increase their dissonance and distance from the field, which in turn, reinforces their identity as members of minority groups.
Blacks, Asians, and American Indians are more visible and their questionnaire responses reflected a greater concern and reaction to the minority experience compared to the Spanish-speaking respondents. Visibility, thus, is related to the degrees of freedom available in terms of experiencing discrimination and in having to assume an overt minority role as an anthropologist. This was reflected in the greater number of complaints from the more visible minorities (Blacks, Asians, American Indians) that they had been used in secondary research roles either as students or as professionals. Whether a woman who was also a minority group member suffered more discrimination because of her double "visibility" as a woman and as a minority was raised by many female respondents. The Committee concluded that although a female minority anthropologist may often feel discrimination in some instance as a woman, that in actuality, racism is the most difficult problem faced by ethnic women. In fact, the preference for hiring women, which is the current state in the market place, may give the minority female the edge over the minority male.
The Enculturation of Minorities as Anthropologists
The resolution that established this Committee also addressed itself to the value of bringing a new perspective into anthropology by recruiting minorities. Our belief is that the basis for this perspective already exists but that the development of a new perspective may mean dismissing part of the old one.
The major problem arises from the condition and process of learning anthropology. The learning situation in anthropology and how its teaching is organized and transmitted requires the student who comes from a different cultural or subcultural background to become enculturated in a standard way of talking, thinking, theorizing and describing to the point he loses the very thing that was considered important in the first place; namely, a different perspective. The onus is frequently placed on the minority student to revamp his thinking in order to become acceptable. Many instances were brought to the attention of the Committee which demonstrated clearly that students were being penalized for citing non-anthropological sources, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or for failing to cite enough standard anthropological works in their arguments. In this way, the student is forced to consciously lose some of his own cultural identity.
The minority student is placed in a similar position to that of the anthropologist who operated in British and French colonies, in which his point of reference was not the colonial society, and in which advancement depended on satisfying the home society. The minority student, in a parallel analogy, must satisfy the tenets and ways of thinking of his professors, who, because they lack the minority perspective, cannot understand or sympathize with that perspective. The terminology of the more militant leaders of the civil rights movement becomes suspect, and anyone who utilizes that terminology is accused of "soft" or "fuzzy headed" thinking.
The professor is thus guilty of not supporting on his own homeground the things he believes at a theoretical or cognitive level for other societies. The anthropologist has a great deal of feeling and respect for the values and cultures of other societies, which be often characterizes under the concept of "cultural relativity," but the same perspective is not taken on his internal university-based operations. In other words, we have a standard way of describing and interpreting the data of anthropology and the minority or foreign student is expected to learn this before be can become acceptable.
The non-European anthropologist, thus, faces a double bind. He is invited to come into anthropology because he has a different perspective. When he expresses this view, he is punished by having his grade lowered or by being criticized. The student's spontaneous perceptions are, in this manner, discouraged or kicked out of him, and he is expected to fulfill the role of the apprentice by incorporating the accepted perspective. These problems were referred to by some of our respondents as the "psychic pitfalls" in anthropology. Ways have to be developed wherein the student is encouraged to express, and the professional not discouraged from publishing the minority perspective, even if it does not fit the usual manuscript category which comes across the editor's desk.
We understand that contributions to knowledge must relate to existing scholarship and must conform to intellectual traditions, but how else will innovation occur in a discipline if new perspectives are not encouraged? The pursuit of science demands that we accept and explore new insights, and accept the possibility that alternative ways of thinking and communicating the subject matter of anthropology exist. Including the minority perspective can be a way of forming a new paradigm.
We must thus be prepared to train minority students better because they have two jobs to do. They have to learn the traditional canons of anthropological thought and they must shape and relate them to another pattern. Some of the students must take the role of intellectual rebels or revolutionaries if the minority perspective is to be developed into a new paradigm.
It is not being suggested that non-minority professors accept uncritically the opinions of minority students and colleagues. But there is a difference between forcing a person to defend a position and dismissing a position as unworthy even of discussion. Thus, the development of a new perspective depends as much on the willingness of majority scholars to open their positions up for inspection as it does on minority scholars developing the tenets of the minority perspective.
Part of forming this new paradigm is related to what Kluckhohn pointed out many years ago regarding the value of self-analysis to the work of the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist examines, with the aid of a training analyst or psychiatrist, his own past experiences and basis of his present psychological views, and this enables him to use his own internally-based perceptions to evaluate the perceptions of his patients. Kluckhohn suggested that the anthropologist should do the same, and for a period in anthropology a number of practitioners were psychoanalyzed. Cora Du Bois made a similar suggestion and maintained that the anthropologist is his own best informant. Following these two lines of thought, the Committee suggests that it would be valuable for minority and non-minority anthropologists to be "culturanalyzed"; that is, consciously examine their own ethnic or class origins as a basis of assessing the cultural data they gather, and to help bring out the implications of their own cultural or class values for analyzing the values of others.
Minority Ambivalence Toward Anthropology
Interpretation of the statements by minority anthropologists on anthropology was not an easy task for the Committee. Overall, the respondents seemed to have positive feelings about anthropology as an interesting and worthwhile endeavor, but there were many who at the same time had negative feelings about the field.
Some Committee members explained this ambivalence by suggesting that the positive feelings were elicited on the part of the minority anthropologist when he was acting or thinking of himself as an anthropologist, and that the negative feelings came out when he considered the discrimination he had personally felt, how anthropology had not really helped poor peoples, or the manner in which his own ethnic group had been described in the literature by anthropologists. This position held that the minority person acted in two separate ways, as a professional and as a member of a society or subgroup.
The other view recognized by some Committee members is that the minority anthropologist was always conscious of who he was and how people treated him, that he had received inequitable treatment in terms of citations and opportunities, that the discipline had developed some concepts and categories which were a disservice to his ethnic group, and that this self-awareness pervades all of his work. This position, perhaps related to the problem of ethnic visibility discussed above, was also expressed by our questionnaire respondents.
In other words, anthropology is an interesting discipline, it's exciting, the subject matter captures one. But, an ambivalence enters the picture for the minority member who happens to be an anthropologist and is committed to changing the conditions of his group. Anthropology does not satisfy the desire for bringing about the changes that should be accomplished in society. Anthropology involves one in what Willis (William S. Willis, "Skeletons in the Anthropological Closet," p. 142, in Dell Hymes (editor) Reinventing Anthropology. New York: Random House, Incorporated, 1969) calls a kind of tourism. It takes you away to meet interesting and exotic people, but anthropology does not directly involve itself in improving the lots of poor people, or to understanding the position of minority students who have come from a different perspective than being White, middle-class American.
However, anthropology, among all the social sciences, studies social and cultural differences of Third World peoples and cultures and teaches tolerance, acceptance and understanding of these differences. Many of the respondents to our questionnaire indicated this to be a positive dimension of anthropology. Thus, given the subject matter of the discipline, the small number of Third World scholars becomes even more of an issue, especially given the prevailing value of cultural relativism. However, it appears that the cultural relativism of anthropology relates to Third World peoples only so long as they remain in their cultural setting; when the "natives" leave their cultural setting they tend to be channeled into a structured setting in anthropology, as emphasized by the respondent who stated:
The responses to some of our questions offer strong support to the belief that majority anthropologists tend to use non-majority scholars and students as resident informants, collectors and providers of data, interpreters, and other secondary roles. This is a traditional role for "natives" in anthropology. Meanwhile, this practice is supported by a value in the discipline that a person cannot be objective about his own culture and society. Recently, "native" students have been encouraged to specialize on their own society. But the implicit remonstrance is that whatever generalizations they develop will be too subjective to be of much theoretical value.
We cannot help but draw a conclusion concerning the relationship between minority status and productivity. One respondent put it this way:
And another stated:
What the second respondent is indicating is that, in order to be productive, a minority scholar must not only select carefully what part he will play in the majority scholar's work, but somehow insulate himself from the constant presence of discrimination, a difficult if not impossible task.
Minority Consciousness and Academic Specialization
One of the issues discussed extensively by the Committee falls under the heading of ethnic consciousness and academic specialization. A very strong sentiment came from some respondents who felt that they were being forced into ethnic roles because of current hiring practices. Most of these responses came from people whose ethnic identity was or could be ambiguous, including persons who are part-Indian and Spanish-speaking respondents, but similar remarks were made by a number of Blacks and others with little or no ethnic identity problem.
It is clear that in recent years there has been an economic benefit to being identified as an ethnic. People are often hired primarily because they are Black, Chicano, Asian, or American Indian, and secondarily because they are good researchers or teachers. The Committee itself has received numerous requests for names of minority anthropologists from various institutions.
Along with this economic factor is also a political factor. A great deal of social pressure from American Indian, Chicano, and Black groups is brought to bear on individuals holding professional positions to participate in community affairs. In some extreme cases, the pull to leave one's position in order to return to the community is strong. Among Black students, in particular, one hears the expressed goal of being trained in something which is relevant to the community and the plan to return to the community.
The ethnic consciousness of minority students is a positive and healthy event. But we must also be wary of the subversion of consciousness which is now taking place. It was Eldridge Cleaver who commented a few years ago that Blackness was becoming as commercial as Coca-Cola. Certainly, one has only to look at the movie-page of any newspaper to rate the commercialization of ethnic themes.
A large number of people commented on the fact that physical appearance was a positive benefit in conducting field research. In more and more areas of the world, as ethnic consciousness spreads, Whites become less welcome but the way is made easier for the minority anthropologist. This is especially the case when it involves the person's own ethnic group. In fact, it may be very difficult for anyone to get a grant to conduct research in an ethnic community without proper access. This access may be facilitated by producing ethnic researchers as staff members. There is nothing wrong with one working among his own group. But there may be a danger here which is, in the long run, counterproductive. One person who responded to the questionnaire, commented on the problem in the following way:
We see a strong tendency on the part of ethnic students to specialize on problems and topics relating to their own group. The culture area emphasis in anthropology has indirectly influenced this tendency. A related factor is the recent notion which has come from ethnic communities that only one who is a member of a group can accurately describe that group's behavioral patterns. The Committee sees none of these practices as necessarily negative. The possibility exists, however, because of encouragement from non-minority scholars or because of the inclinations of the minority scholar, that these studies may turn out to be primarily descriptive, and that the minority student will only provide data on which others can generalize and he will again be placed in the role of data collector.
Thus, we see a real danger in the ethnic specialization which often dominates our most committed students. It is our suspicion that the society, the profession, and the elements in each ethnic group are all contributing towards this specialization of labor. These are, perhaps, very subtle manipulative forces which will have long range implications. The Committee believes that it is not only appropriate but necessary for members of minority groups to work among their own groups in order to correct distortions and provide new dimensions. What concerns us is the need for changing circumstances so that a minority scholar will be enabled to discuss theoretical issues as they relate to his awn group. Otherwise, the result will be a structured situation where the theoretical contributions of minorities will remain restricted and confined. We feel that a balance should be struck between the need and desire to produce corrective information on minority groups and the need to achieve the widest possible grasp of social science methodology and theory.
The staffing of ethnic studies programs has an additional bearing on this problem. Here again, the Committee is not questioning the positive benefits of ethnic studies programs. But the problem is that many of these programs hired minorities at the non-professional level, and as a result of employment many people dropped out of graduate programs. Thus, some of our brightest and most committed students have been channeled into such programs before they have completed their training, and at this point in time many of these positions seem very insecure because of the occupant's lack of a degree and reduced funding. Thus, many minority students were co-opted into dropping their graduate programs and assuming these positions. Now that these positions are being reduced or eliminated, minority students find they have lost years and do not have higher degrees or other saleable skills. The minority student must be able to weigh the short range costs and benefits of employment in ethnic studies programs against the long range costs and benefits of staying in a PhD program.
We must remember, however, in giving this advice, the whole question of intellectual materialism and not lose sight of the fact that there is now more than ever a very serious questioning of the content of the PhD program on the part of minority students. The reason marry do not continue in PhD programs is not only because they may not have the capability because of poor training or even because they have been sidetracked into ethnic programs; it is because they are, in fact, trying to do what the "minority professionals" have not done yet, that is, to generate some type of alternative way of understanding intellectually the situation in which they find themselves.
The general effect on anthropology as a discipline has been that ethnic studies programs have co-opted ethnic peoples into a cul-de-sac and away from developing as a well trained anthropological technician or theoretician with the widest possible grasp of social science methodology and theory. This does not mean that the issues surrounding ethnic studies programs were not real issues, or issues which came from the ethnic community; it means that some of our prime material, our brightest students, may have been pulled into directions which were counterproductive in the long run.
The Committee on Minorities and Anthropology makes the following recommendations to the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association.
1. That it continue the work of the present Committee by appointing suitable replacements for the present membership and approve sufficient funds for its productive work. The present Committee struggled long in defining its immediate tasks and, knowing fully the immensity of the total problem, chose more general goals, thinking in this that it was best to define the major parameters of the problem and to leave to future Committees the task of exploring specific problems. Perhaps by spelling out some of the matters not covered by this Committee, we can give an indication of tasks which remain to be done.
2. The problem of racism and discrimination is one which has been a problem recorded since time immemorial, and the present days are no different. The Association should encourage its continual research and investigation, especially in its own midsts.
3. The combined efforts of the many private foundations and federal directives have had little impact on increasing the number of professional anthropologists of minority background; at least this is the case if we can believe the estimates provided by respondents to our questionnaire. The number of minority students now enrolled in the country's graduate schools is not sufficient to increase or replace the present number of minority anthropologists. The small return rate on our questionnaire and the fact that our respondents were uncertain or very general in their estimates, permits only a very general indication of the problem. It is recommended that the next Committee should conduct a new survey directed to departmental chairman to determine the exact number of graduate students of minority status.
4. Many of the respondents to our questionnaire and others who, instead, responded by letter or verbally, lead us to believe, in hindsight, that the questionnaire may not have been the best research instrument for the study. Most of our respondents agreed to a follow-up interview, which we have not had time to pursue. It is recommended that the Association provide financial support, or develop a grant for research assistance to conduct personal interviews with minority students and professionals.
5. Another task for a research assistant is the search through recent journals to verify the complaint voiced by many respondents that minority scholars are not cited, reviewed, or given intellectual recognition equal to non-minority scholars. This Committee served to list complaints on an issue it suspected, but the problem needs more definitive documentation.
6. There has been some discussion on the need to develop new perspectives on the subject matter of anthropology, perhaps by encouraging the minority perspective of people who come into the discipline from other cultures or ethnic groups. To accomplish this end, it is recommended that the new Committee on Minorities and Anthropology be encouraged to sponsor and organize symposia and conferences with the specific purpose of discussing and analyzing alternative concepts, theories, and models which derive from the minority or ethnic perspective.
7. The Committee strongly supports the recruitment of more persons of minority background into anthropology, but suggests this can come about only with an improvement in the social and economic atmosphere for minorities in anthropology. Many native born minorities come from the poorest sectors in American society and often cannot complete college, much less graduate school, without financial support. The statistics developed by various educational and governmental agencies on the subject, especially regarding American Indian, Black, and Chicano students, have been too widely publicized and too readily available to necessitate documenting that point here. The new Committee and the Association as a whole will have to come up with more effective ideas than those which have characterized the private and government sector programs designed to support minorities in schools. Perhaps a separate Committee is needed for this task as opposed to the others suggested here.
8. To our minority and non-minority colleagues (students and professors), we ask your full cooperation with the new Committee in developing strategies to meet the goals described above. We also urge you to write the new Committee providing them with your response to this report.
Table of Contents / Back to Chapter 6 / Appendix
About AAA / Join AAA / Jobs & Careers / AAA Meetings / AAA Publications
Sections & Interest Groups / Staff Directory / Anthro Links / Support AAA
or comments? We want to hear from you!
© 1996-2006, American Anthropological Association
2200 Wilson Blvd, Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22201; phone 703/528-1902; fax 703/528-3546